Remodelling Teaching, Rethinking Education

CERD organised a one day conference on this topic today, and it proved a very interesting day indeed. I’m not going to say too much here, because we do intend to provide much more information about the day, including papers from the speakers via the web. From my point of view, the first presentation from Professor Mike Bottery of the University of Hull, proved particularly interesting. He was talking about the deprofessionalisation of teaching, or more accurately how teachers are moving away from being regarded as professionals (with all the rights to set one’s own agenda that that implies) to “branded technicians” – essentially people charged with delivering a set of specific competencies to meet a particular demand for a particular type of education. As this is my blog I’m going to reflect on the relevance of is to my own work, which is that this is precisely my concern about what we were being asked to do in the old TLDO. The whole agenda seemed to me that academics were seen as failing to come up with the goods, whereas in my view they quite obviously weren’t. (Also nobody seemed to know exactly what “the goods” were!) and we were faced with pushing a lot of unconvincing agendas about PDP, and skills for example that relatively few people seemed particularly interested in.  The challenge for the EDU is to reclaim its credibility as a professional support mechanism, and I think we are now going some way to doing that by communicating more with our own clients than with external agendas. (Not that the external agenda has gone away, of course.)  The last speaker, Michael Apple also picked up on this. issue, but he was much more concerned with how educational institutions engaged (or rather didn’t) with their communities. He gave the example of how communities in Brazil had incorporated street gangs, (who previously had been excluded, not altogether surprisingly)  into local decision making processes. Clearly that’s an extreme example, but he did suggest that Universities tend to exclude a lot of people who are absolutely essential to their work, (building, catering, gardening, secretarial, staff and so forth) from decision making processes, and they might benefit from a more inclusive approach.  Coincidentally I had occasion to visit another University recently where I noticed that the development unit formally made provision for these staff, and the development programme was structured in the same way as it was for everyone else. Well, it’s not much but it’s a start.

The other two sessions, were a very interesting debate about Rethinking Higher Education presented by Professor Mike Neary, of Lincoln and Dr Glenn Rikowski from Northampton, and a session on workforce reform, social partnership, and the construction of consensus. This last was very much about the research into Trade Union involvement in workplace remodelling in schools, and in truth I didn’t feel I had, or have a lot to bring to this debate. (A deplorably instrumentalist attitude no doubt, but there you are!)  On the other hand, the Rethinking HE session was quite thought provoking, arguing that universities should be the sites of co-production of critical knowledge on the part of both of staff and students. I don’t disagree, but I do worry about the replacement of one orthodoxy with another. Mike was talking about the notion of Mass Intellectuality, or Marx’s notion of the general intellect. The latter gives me pause for thought. I don’t think Marx meant any sort of singular Orwellian “newspeak” or “new intellect” but it’s easy to be interpreted that way. I suppose the same goes for mass intellectuality, but at least that seems to me to accomodate multiple viewpoints.  I think I just have a natural antipathy to anything that smacks of mob rule, and am  rather uneasy with anything that  might facilitate it.

The other thing I was a bit dubious about was beginning with the quotation “We work but we produce nothing” which apparently comes from the student revolts of 1968. But that falls into the trap of believing that corporeality is an essential property of “something”. Work always produces something – even if it’s just a headache! In this case I find it hard to believe that the students’ work did not produce at the very least  a new sense of self among themselves.  (and that quotation, come to think of it!).  There’s a lot more to think about here, though, and I think I need to take it to my research blog for that kind of reflective consideration.

Where does CERD go. Well, we’ve taken some steps towards working with students. Perhaps we should start to give some thought to the needs of the wider university workforce. Let’s face it without the catering staff’s coffee the place wouldn’t run at all!